The hearings are expected to take at least 12 months to investigate widespread sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children who passed through the care system in the former counties of Clwyd and Gwynedd over the past two decades. They open on Tuesday in the village of Ewloe, near Mold.
So great is the number of people accused of abuse that six weeks, from 14 April to 23 May, has already been set aside in the inquiry's official timetable for "alleged abusers" to defend themselves.
Around 180 former residents of North Wales children's homes who have alleged that they were assaulted while in care are expected to give evidence to the tribunal, which was announced by Prime Minister John Major personally last June, and which will be chaired by a former High Court judge, Sir Ronald Waterhouse.
Many of the 80-plus accused, almost all of whom are men, are former or serving care staff, social workers or teachers. At least two men who have been convicted of abuse in the past have also been named.
It is understood that a number of former policemen and at least one still serving may be named too. Permission has already been given for six officers to be legally represented separately from the North Wales police authority, according to the transcripts of the proceedings of a preliminary hearing of the inquiry.
Lawyers at the hearing told Sir Ronald that separate representation was appropriate for "those very few officers who have been the subject of allegations of criminal or disciplinary offences".
The inquiry was told that steps had been taken to identity the officers concerned, and the transcript of the second preliminary hearing says: "The position is that matters have been clarified. We now have the names of six officers who may be named potentially."
Some of those named as abusers may have been previously investigated either by the police or by social services. One man who was acquitted in a criminal trial could be required to give evidence again at the tribunal.
Sir Ronald Waterhouse said on Friday that he was "very conscious of the problem of double jeopardy".
He said: "In general, if you are acquitted of an offence you don't have to stand trial for it again. As far as the present tribunal is concerned, I'm glad to say the problem is a limited one. As far as I am aware at the moment, there is only one person who has been charged and acquitted."
The inquiry itself will decide on whether or not witnesses' names will be made public during the public hearings. It has many of the powers of a court of law, including enforcing attendance of witnesses and the power to commit for contempt.
Officially called the North Wales Child Abuse Tribunal of Inquiry, it was set up in the wake of a 300-page report by childcare expert John Jillings and two colleagues, who concluded that abuse had been serious and widespread and that a full public judicial inquiry was necessary.Reuse content